2010 June: Crazy for Carbonara

Recipes for pasta carbonara vary as much as the stories of its origin. Some operators build carbonara sauce with eggs, pecorino, pancetta and black pepper; while others use cream, bacon and Parmesan. Carbonara is derived from the Italian word for charcoal. One legend claims that the dish was made for Italian charcoal workers. (Some menus list pasta carbonara as “coal miner’s spaghetti.”) Other tales explain that it was first prepared over charcoal grills. Operators may not be in agreement on the dish’s origins — or what’s in it — but they can agree that this decadent dish is worth carrying on the menu.

Moe Abrishamkar Jr., head chef/owner of Amalfi Ristorante Italiano in Rockville, Maryland, prepares linguine carbonara ($13/dinner, $11/lunch) where al-dente linguine is dressed in a combination of eggs, cream, onions and prosciutto di parma that is topped with Parmigiano- Reggiano. “Linguine carbonara is a fun and simple dish that tastes delicious,” says Abrishamkar.

After preparing the dish for a year, Abrishamker tweaked his recipe in response to his diners’ desire for more healthful fare. Before Abrishamker used pancetta. While delicious, he says, pancetta is highly fatty. Today, Abrishamkar utilizes prosciutto di parma. “Prosciutto makes for a slightly different and healthier version of the dish. It also doesn’t hurt that I love the flavor,” he says.

The food cost for the dish fluctuates depending on the price of prosciutto di parma and Parmigiano- Reggiano. “Beyond that it is simply a little pasta, eggs and onions. On average it costs around $7 for the ingredients, Abrishamkar says.

The dish sells well. Abrishamkar estimates the linguine carbonara has a 30- to 40-percent profit margin. Another bonus: it takes only a few minutes to prepare. “The longest part is cooking the pasta,” Abrishamkar says.

“It’s hard to mess up pasta carbonara. It’s such an easy dish to prepare,” adds Jim Kerstetter, general manager of Pomodori’s Pizza, which has two locations in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pomodori’s pasta carbonara tosses together sautéed pancetta, mushrooms and fresh garlic with extra virgin olive oil and spaghettini. “Spaghettini holds and maintains a good coating of the sauce,” says Kerstetter, who estimates the $12.95 pasta dish has a 15-percent food cost and a 65-percent profit margin.

Ron Inverso, owner of Ron’s Orginal Bar & Grille in Exton, Pennsylvania, whips up his orecchiette carbonara by cooking up a sauce with mushrooms, peas, carrots, garlic, onions, applewood smoked bacon, sherry and cream. The $13 entrée has an estimated food cost of 25 percent and earns a 75-percent profit margin. “It’s pretty popular,” Inverso says. “It’s a different item. Most of the cream-based pastas like Alfredo are made with cheese, butter and cream. The sherry adds a sweet wine-like flavor to it.”

Inverso finds the sherry balances out the bacon’s smoky flavor. He chose orecchiette, tiny discshaped, dimpled pasta, because it holds onto the sauce well and makes a nice presentation.

To produce his carbonara, Inverso sautés diced bacon, garlic and olive oil until slightly browned. In a separate bowl he whisks together egg, Romano, cream, salt and pepper. After the pasta cooks, he tosses it in the egg mixture. Then he adds mushrooms, peas and carrots to the sauté pan, reheats and deglazes with sherry. Lastly, he tosses the pasta in the pan, making sure to cook the eggs and serves with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.

While Inverso is not opposed to deviating from a traditional carbonara recipe with the addition of sherry, he won’t remove the bacon. “It’s not carbonara without the bacon,” he says “The bacon makes the dish. Otherwise it’s just Alfredo.”

Tony Maronni’s, in Sussex, Wisconsin, may not be set up for preparing pasta, but that doesn’t stop owner Tony Lippold from utilizing carbonara. The sauce appears on his chicken carbonara specialty pizza. “It’s definitely one of our top fi ve specialty pizzas,” says Lippold, who estimates the pizza’s profit margin is 75 percent.

The carbonara specialty pizza displays a layer of housemade Alfredo sauce, topped with grilled marinated chicken, pre-cooked and diced applewood smoked bacon, Parmesan, Romano, mozzarella and provolone. The pizza sells for $11.99 (small), $15.24 (medium) and $18.99 (large). Lippold estimates the food cost is 25 percent. “It’s really easy to make since it’s so few toppings,” he says.

Pasta carbonara may be a quick and easy dish to prepare, but it still requires complete attention throughout the cooking process. For example, it’s important to remove the pan from the heat when adding eggs to the carbonara sauce. “A lot of people miss this step and cook the eggs,” says Abrishamkar. “Lose focus for a minute, and you can ruin a wonderful dish.” ?

Orecchiette Carbonara
Yield: 1 Serving

6 strips Applewood smoked bacon-cooked
1 tablespoon fresh chopped garlic
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 fresh egg
2 tablespoons Romano
2 ounces heavy cream
9 ounces orecchiette pasta
Pinch of salt
Pinch of fresh ground black pepper
1 ounce fresh mushrooms
1 ounce carrots, diced fine
1 ounce peas
2 ounces cream sherry

Sauté diced bacon, garlic and olive oil in a pan until slightly browned. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk egg, Romano, cream, salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat pasta in boiling water then drain thoroughly. Add pasta into egg mixture bowl and toss thoroughly. Return pan with bacon to the heat for about a minute. Add mushrooms, peas and carrots, then sauté until warm. Add sherry to deglaze. Add pasta and egg mix to the pan, then toss to make sure eggs are cooked. Deglaze with pasta water as needed. Transfer to serving bowl and grind generous amount of black pepper over the top.

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.

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